2 Finger Rule – Fact or Fiction
I have the Wade Collar which my dog trainer, Nancy Johansen, gave us when she helped us with our dog. We have a 1 year 10 month old Staffordshire Bull Terrier. As I’m sure you know, he is quite the little puller on the leash. We found this collar really helped and he doesn’t seem to pull when he has it on.
Yesterday we went to the vet for just a regular check up and we had that collar on him. The vet said it looks like that collar is too tight on him (2 finger rule) and to loosen it. We had it right behind his ears and high up on his neck. I am worried when we do have it on that it is too tight, but I thought that is the way it is supposed to be. Could I get your thoughts/advice on this?
Danielle – Calgary, Alberta Canada
I personally doubt that the 2 finger rule actually originally had anything to do with worry about collars being too tight as it doesn’t make sense on a lot of levels and doesn’t trump common sense.
I actually believe the 2 finger rule started for the complete opposite reason – concerns regarding putting collars on too loosely rather than rampant problems with ignorant dog owners unintentionally throttling their own dogs. In my experience people are far more likely to put flat collars on too loosely, which can and does result in dogs slipping their collars, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Somewhere along the line the “no more than” – two finger rule became the “at least” – two finger rule.
I personally don’t think it makes any sense. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone that even accidentally put a collar on too tightly and by too tight I mean the dog would be in distress from a respiration or other negative physical perspective. That would be hard not to notice and correct immediately. The feedback from the dog would be sufficient to alert a dog owner.
I’ve been working with dogs for 25 years, know a lot of trainers and a lot of veterinarians and vet techs and I’ve never heard of any injury caused by a collar that was too tight. Incorrectly used – yes, but the damage done was due to use of force, not collar snugness. If it has happened, it hasn’t happened in such numbers that I can imagine it inspired a 2 finger rule. There are cases of where dogs “grew” into collars and as I’ll mention in a moment, dogs that should have been wearing a collar in the first place, but I don’t think perpetrators of that kind of neglect and abuse were rationale behind the 2 finger rule.
As I say, I believe it’s more likely that the 2 finger rule came about for quite the opposite reason. It likely started due to people using flat collars on untrained dogs with a tendency to put them on too loosely and dogs were slipping out of them. It doesn’t take long either before wily dogs wearing flat collars figure out that pulling away from their owners and giving a bit of a corkscrew twist of their heads will slip the collar. Something that can’t happen if the collar is fitted for behind the ears and under the jaw with no more than two fingers slackness.
Even were the two finger rule to apply from the “too tight” perspective vs the too loose; it would still be a bad rule of thumb to dispense. Applying a 2 finger rule across the board when we have breed size diversity ranging from Great Danes vs a Jack Russell illustrates the point. Two fingers worth of slack on a Great Dane would have little impact on the positioning of the collar whereas with the Jack Russell would move a collar from behind the ears to down to the shoulders.
Another significant variable impacting collar fit and type for that matter is neck physiology. I’m thinking of breeds disproportionately muscled in the neck like a Jack Russell vs a few similarly sized breeds that have dangerously thin tracheas and/or esophaguses. The two finger rule in the latter case would provide insufficient protection as these breeds should very likely never wear collars, but rather harnesses.
Another impacting factor to further illustrate how the two finger rule is too general to rely on from a safety perspective is the surface area of a collar. Imagine a dog on a leash, catching an owner off guard and lunging towards a squirrel. The energy transferred down the leash and into the dog is going to impact that dog physically speaking more so on the basis of how broad an area that force is dissipated as opposed to how snug the collar is.
Even if the 2 finger rule was worthy, even a flat buckle collar, can damage if common sense isn’t used. A dog tied to a solid post allowed to freely lunge or the same dog at the end of a leash held by a 250 lb man intent on “correcting” the dog instead of teaching the dog is at risk of injury.
At best I think the “at least” 2 finger rule as opposed to the “no more than” 2 finger rule is something someone may have made up with the best of intentions, but if so they weren’t thinking it through.